Sitting Pretty
selected from Cult Times Special #10
Dana Scully: She's in fashion Screaming. Running away. Tripping unconvincingly and falling over. That was the sole purview of women in the early days of Cult TV.

Now, however, they're more concerned with wearing short skirts or leather bodices and beating up men (or fellow women, should they so wish). But they're not sex objects, oh no...

We examine the days when women were there purely ‘for the dads’ and their subsequent arrival in the real world where they stood equal to, or even better than, men.

Did you vote in our first on-line poll for your favourite feisty character? Over 3000 people did...

The early 1990s saw a dramatic increase in the sales of trouser suits. Personal ads everywhere began reading ‘Scully seeks Mulder’, and vice versa. Suddenly, here was a strong, beautiful, powerful woman who battled monsters and won; a woman who nine out of ten men wanted – but, much more significantly, a woman that nine out of ten women wanted to be. Unlike, say, Blake’s 7, it wasn’t just the male lead who gave The X-Files its huge female following.

Cult TV’s women didn’t always have it so good. Doctor Who débuted on 23rd November 1963, and by the end of the year the first two female companions had tripped over and screamed – helpless, girlie traits that, deserved or not, would define the female assistant’s role in the public eye for most of the series’ run. Womens' main functions were still to look pretty and make the tea, or to be the voice of common sense, trying to stop the brave but foolhardy men from rushing headlong into adventure.

Cult Times: Feistiest Fantasy Female Poll

Who is the feistiest of them all?

Final Results

Buffy Summers
Seven of Nine
Sally Solomon
Emma Peel
Dana Scully
Miss Parker
Sam Carter

It didn’t look like things would improve much in the future, either. Despite Star Trek’s praise-worthy attempts at depicting a society free from discrimination, the women seemed to be solely occupied with wearing impractically short skirts, or falling for Captain Kirk. Lieutenant Uhura would probably have swooned on the spot if anyone had told her that one day women would command Starfleet ships. For many shows ‘woman’ seemed as good a description of a character-type as any: ‘The Hero’, ‘The Coward’, ‘The Best Friend’, ‘The Funny One’ – ‘The Woman’.

Cathy Gale often had the whip handBut The Avengers was different. It has justifiably been acclaimed as a landmark for females in Cult TV, perhaps even for women on TV, full stop. Cathy Gale and Emma Peel may have made the tea occasionally, but tea was made for them, too. Sometimes they needed to be rescued by a man – but many times they were the ones doing the rescuing. They wore practical clothing too – albeit gear that was guaranteed to attract male viewers. But then, Emma wasn’t M Appeal for nothing. She was beautiful, witty, hugely intelligent and able to deal with anything. What woman wouldn’t want to be like that? Oh, and she was awesome in a fight.

One major reason that the Avengers girls could compete in the usually action-packed world of Cult TV was their prowess on a physical level. They needed martial arts and obvious higher-than-average strength to hold their own. Significantly, when female main characters did appear – from the Bionic Woman and Wonder Woman onwards – most of them were strong and skilled fighters, who were not at a disadvantage when dealing with the so-called ‘stronger sex’.

Overall, the ’90s have done us women proud, with aspiration figure after aspiration figure storming on to the screens. Buffy, Xena, Scully – they’re just great characters, full stop. Men, women, straight, gay – they all love them. But hang on a minute – Buffy wears short skirts all the time. Xena wears a leather bikini, for goodness sake! So aren’t they just ‘something for the dads’? Well, no (which isn’t to say ‘the dads’ don’t like it). Echoing the glory days of Emma Peel, you get the feeling that they’re wearing these clothes because they want to. Were they to have to, say, go down a mine in the middle of winter, they’d dress appropriately. But stylishly.

And surely these female characters are all love/lust interests, too? Xander loves Buffy, Buffy loves Angel. Men (and women) fall for Xena all over the place. Scully’s had an admirer or two (and the will they/won’t they relationship of Mulder and Scully has been one of the series’ biggest talking points). But again, it’s a character thing. It’s part of the story, not the whole story. They may have a love interest; they’re not there to be the love interest.

The female characters aren’t there to be ‘The Woman’ anymore. They’re ‘The Vampire Slayer’, or ‘The Sceptic’, but they’re oh, so much more than that too...

Jac Rayner

Excerpted from Cult Times Special #10 – also includes a three-stage countdown of the fifty feistiest fantasy females ever. In our humble opinion, anyway

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